It is our intention to serialize in the issues to come the account of a two-month travel across the United States of America, undertaken in 1935 by the Russia's best-known pair of literary collaborators, Ilya Ilf and Eugene Petrov.
In all, the book has forty seven chapters, which means it'll take us almost eight years to present it in whole, if we continue to publish it one chapter per issue.
Who knows, maybe by that time, we won't be infringing on anyone's copyrights.
If you want to find out more about Ilf & Petrov, our collaborative archive might be a good place to start.
A note to fans of Little Golden America: as of issue No. 22, Admit Two adopted a PDF format, which means you will have to access individual back issues to get to further chapters of Ilf and Petrov's American adventure.
Little Golden America
TWO FAMOUS SOVIET HUMORISTS
THESE UNITED STATES
ILYA ILF AND EUGENE PETROV
Translation from the Russian
A R R A R & R I N E H A R T,
I N C
original Russian title of this books is
1937, BY FARRAR & REINHART, INC.
IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
THE FERRIS PRINTING COMPANY, NEW YORK
a Twent-Seventh-Story Window
a special train leaves Paris for Le Havre with pas-
for the Normandie. This train makes no stops. Three hours after
departure it rolls into the large structure which is in the Havre mari-
station. Here the passengers descend to a shut-in platform, are
by escalators to the upper floor of the station, walk through halls
along passage ways, all completely enclosed, and finally find them-
in a large vestibule where they take their places in elevators and
for their various desks. At last they are on the Normandie. They
not the slightest idea what it looks like, for throughout this journey
have not even caught a glimpse of its outer contours.
too, walked into an elevator. A lad in a red tunic with gold but-
gracefully lifted his arm and pressed a knob. The shining new ele-
rose a little, stopped and suddenly moved down, paying no heed
to the uniformed operator who desperately continued to press
knob. After falling three floors instead of rising two, we heard the
familiar phrase – on this occasion pronounced in impeccable
“The elevator is out of order!”
took the stairway to our cabin, a stairway covered throughout
a noninflammable rubber carpet of bright green. The corridors and
of the ship were covered with the same carpeting, which makes
footfall soft and soundless. But one does not fully appreciate the
of rubber carpeting until the ship begins to roll in earnest. Then
carpeting seems to grip the soles. True, that does not save one from
seasick, but it does keep one from falling.
stairway was not at all of the steamship type. It was broad, slant-
with runs and landings of dimensions generous enough for a
cabin was likewise quite unsteamerlike. A specious room with
ample windows, two broad wooden beds, easy chairs, wall closets,
mirrors – in fact, all the blessings of a communal dwelling, even
in a storm does the Normandie resemble a ship, but in good
it is a large hotel, with a sweeping view of the ocean, which,
suddenly torn loose from its moorings in a modern seaside health
is floating away at the rate of thirty-odd knots an hour.
below, from the platform of the various floors of the station
who were seeing the passengers off shouted their final good
and farewells. They shouted in French, in English, in Spanish.
also shouted in Russian. A strange chap in a black seafaring uni-
with a silver anchor and a shield of David on one sleeve, a beret
his head and a sad little beard on his chin, was shouting something
Jewish. Later we learned that he was the ship’s rabbi; the General
Company had engaged him to minister to the spiritual
of a certain portion of its passengers. Other passengers had at
disposal Catholic and Protestant priests. Muslims, fire worshipers,
Soviet engineers traveled without benefit of clergy; on that score
General Transatlantic Company left them entirely to their own
Normandie has a spacious church with dim electric lights;
primarily for Catholic services, but maybe adjusted to suit
denominational needs. Thus, the alter and the icons may be cov-
with special shield designed for that purpose and the Catholic
converted automatically into a Protestant house of worship. As
the rabbi of the sad little beard, there being no available room for
the children’s nursery was assigned for the performance of his
Whereupon the company provided him with a tallith and even
special drapery for covering temporarily the mundane representa-
of bunnies and kittens.
ship left the harbor. On the pier, at the mole, everywhere were
of people. The Normandie was still a novelty to the citizens
Le Havre. They foregathered from all corners of the city to greet
transatlantic titan and bid it bon voyage.
the French shore was finally lost in the smoky mists of the murky
Toward evening we already saw the lights of Southampton. For
hour and a half the Normandie stood in its roadstead there,
passengers from England, surrounded on three sides by the distant
mysterious lights of a strange city. Then again she put out to sea,
again began the seething tumult of unseen waves aroused by tem-
the stern, where we were located, everything trembled. The deck
the walls and the lights and the easy chairs and the glasses on the
and the washstand itself trembled. The ship’s vibration was
pronounced that even objects form which one did not expect any
made a noise. For the first time we heard the sound of towels,
the carpet on the floor, the paper on the table, the electric bulb,
curtain, the collar thrown on the bed. Everything in the cabin
and some things even thundered. If a passenger became
for a moment and relaxed his facial muscles, his teeth at
begin to chatter of their own free will. All through the night it
to us that someone was trying to brake down the door of our
and someone else was constantly rapping at our windowpane
laughing ominously. We discovered no less than a hundred differ-
sounds inside our cabin.
Normandie was on its tenth voyage between Europe and Amer-
It was scheduled to go into dry dock after its eleventh trip, when
stern would be taken apart and the structural deficiencies that caused
the morning a sailor came into our cabin and closed its windows
metal shutters. A storm was rising. A small freighter was having
difficult time making its way to the French shore. At times it disap-
in the waves, only the tips of its mast remaining visible.
had always expected to find the ocean roadway between the Old
New worlds quite lively with traffic. Now and then we imagined,
would come across ships blaring music and waving flags. But we
the ocean a grandiosely deserted expanse. The little boat that
saw bucking the storm four hundred miles from Europe was the
ship we passed during the entire five days of our crossing. The
with slow and dignified deliberateness. It steamed
never decreasing its accustomed speed, nonchalantly flinging aside
high waves that attacked it on all sides. Here was no unequal struggle
some miserable contraption fashioned by man’s hand and the
forces of nature. It was rather a contest between well-matched
a semicircular smoking saloon three famous wrestlers with cauli-
ears were sitting with their coats off, playing cards. Shirts bulged
from under their vests. They were in throes of painful thinking.
cigars dangled from their mouths. At another table two men
chess, every minute adjusting the chessmen that kept sliding off
board. Two others, their chins cupped in the palms of their hands,
the chess game. Who but Soviet folk would ever think of play-
the queen’s gambit in such weather? We guessed it: the charming
proved to be Soviet engineers.
time people met one another and formed congenial groups. A printed
of passengers was distributed. There we found a very amusing sur-
Sandwich – a whole family of Sandwiches, Mr. Sandwich, Mrs.
and young Master Sandwich.
entered the Gulf Stream. A warm rain drizzled. In the oppress-
hothouse atmosphere hung the heavy sediment of the oily smoke
the Normandie’s smokestacks belched forth.
set out to inspect the ship. A third-class passenger does not see
of the boat on which he travels. He is not allowed either into the
or into the tourist class. Nor does the tourist-class passenger see
more of the Normandie, for he likewise is not permitted to tress-
certain limits. But the first-class passenger is the Normandie.
no less than nine-tenths of the entire ship. Everything is im-
in the first class – the promenade decks, the lounges, the saloons
smoking and the saloons for playing cards, and the saloons espe-
for ladies, and a hothouse where fat little French swallows swing
glass branches and hundreds of orchids hang from the ceiling, and
theatre with its four hundred seats, and the swimming pool full of
illuminated through its bottom with green electric lights, and the
square with its department store, and the saloons for sport
elderly bald-headed gentlemen, flat on their backs, play ball with
feet, and other saloons where the same bald-headed men, tired
tossing balls and jumping up and down on a cinder-path platform,
in embroidered easy chairs; above all immense is the carpet that
the main saloon, for surely it weighs more than half a ton.
the smokestacks of the Normandie, which one might think
belong to the entire ship, are reserved exclusively for the first
In one of them the dogs of the first-class passengers are kept.
pedigreed dogs, bored to the verge of madness, stand in their
Most of the time they are rocked to dizziness. Now and then they
led out on a leash for a walk on a special deck reserved for them.
they bark uncertainly and regard the tossing ocean sadly.
went into the galley. Scores of chefs were at work around a huge
stove. Scores of others were dressing fowl, carving fish, baking
rearing tortes. In a special department kosher food was being
Occasionally the steamship’s rabbi would come down here to
sure that the gay French chefs did not throw bits of the unortho-
trefa into this sequestered food.
Normandie is reputed to be a masterpiece of French tech-
and art. Its technique is indeed splendid. Admirable are its speed,
fire-fighting system, the bold and elegant lines of its body, its radio
But as for art, surely the French have known better days. There
of course, the faultlessly executed paintings on the glass walls;
the paintings themselves were not in any way distinguished. The
might be said of the bas-relief, the mosaic, the sculpture, the fur-
There was a profusion of gold, of colored leather, of beautiful
silks, expensive wood, fine glass. There was much wealth but
real art. As a whole, it was what French artists, helplessly shrug-
their shoulders, called “stile triomphe”. Not long ago in Paris, on
Champs-Elysees, was opened a Café Triomphe, sumptuously uphol-
in the boudoir manner. A pity! We should like to have seen as
of the remarkable French engineers who created the Nor-
equally remarkable French artists and architects. All the more is
pity since France has such people.
defects in technique – for example, the vibration in the stern,
threw the elevator out of commission for half an hour – and other
trifles must be charged not against the engineers who built
first-rate ship, but rather against the impatient orders of their cli-
who were in a hurry to begin exploiting the ship under any cir-
in order to secure a blue ribbon for record speed.
the eve of the ship’s arrival in New York there was a gala ban-
and an evening of amateur entertainment managed by the pas-
themselves. The dinner was the same as ever, except that a
of Russian caviar was added. Besides that, the passengers
given pirate hats of paper, rattles, badges with blue ribbons on
“Normandie” was inscribed, and wallets of artificial leather, also
the trademark of the company. Gifts are distributed to prevent
of the ship’s property. The point is, the majority of travelers
victims of the psychosis of collecting souvenirs. During the Nor-
first voyage the passengers stole as mementoes a huge quantity
knives, forks, and spoons. Some even carried away plates, ash trays,
pitchers. So, it proved more convenient to make a gift of a badge
a buttonhole rather than to lose a spoon needed in the ménage. The
were overjoyed with these toys. A fat lady, who throughout
five days of the journey had sat in a corner of the dining saloon
alone, suddenly in a most businesslike manner put the pirate hat
her head, discharged her popgun, and attached the badge to her
Evidently she regarded it as her duty to take advantage con-
of all the blessings she was entitled to by virtue of her
petty-bourgeois amateur entertainment began in the evening.
passengers gathered in the saloon. The lights were put out, and a
was trained on a small stage. There, her entire body trem-
appeared a haggard young woman in a silver dress. The orches-
made up of professional musicians, regarded her with pity. The
applauded encouragingly. The young lady opened her mouth
and shut it at once. The orchestra patiently repeated the
Sensing forebodings of something frightful, the auditors
not to look at each other. Suddenly the young lady trembled and
to sing. She sang that famous song, “Parlez-moi d’amour,” but
sang it so quietly and so badly that her tender call was not heard
anyone. In the middle of the song she quite unexpectedly ran off
stage, hiding her face in her hand. Another young lady appeared,
she was even more haggard. She was in an all-black dress, yet
Sheer fright was written all over her face. She was a bare-
amateur dancer. The audience began to glide out of the hall stealth-
None of this was at all like our buoyant, talented, vociferous ama-
the fifth day the decks of the steamer were filled with suitcases
trunks unloaded out of the cabins. The passengers moved to the
side, and, holding on to their hats, avidly peered into the horizon.
shore was not yet visible, but New York’s skyscrapers were already
out of the water like calm pillars of smoke. An astounding con-
this – after the vacant ocean, suddenly the largest city in the world.
the sunny smoke dimly gleamed the steel extremities of the hundred-
Empire State Building. Beyond the stern of the Nor-
seagulls swirled. Four powerful little tugboats began to turn
enormous body of the ship, pulling it up and pushing it toward
pier. On the left side was the small green statue of liberty. Then
it was on the right side. We were being turned around, and
city turned around us, showing us first one and then another of
sides. Finally, it stopped in its tracks, impossibly huge, thunderous,
quite incomprehensible as yet.
passengers walked down covered passageways into the customs
went through all the formalities, and emerged into the streets of
the city, without having once seen the ship on which they had come.